My daughters will both be in college this fall. Our family vacations have changed over the years. We spent 9 years living in the Midwest and all of our family was on the West Coast, so when it came to vacations, we did a lot of driving.
When our daughters were much younger, we lived in Montana a short trip away from Yellowstone National Park and thus began our love of National Park family vacations. We did the math and an annual National Park pass was more expensive than one trip to a National Park, but it was definitely less expensive than paying that entrance fee each time we visited. We held onto that membership card with pride. We owned a piece of America whenever we wanted to visit!
We took many trips to Yellowstone those first few years we had the membership. In the winter we visited Lamar Valley and saw all the bison in the snowed in valley. We also heard the wolves howling in the distance.
In the summertime, we trekked down to Teton National Park (just south of Yellowstone) and this began our love of the Tetons. Part of our love of the National Parks is the history and learning centers each park has. We stroked a beaver skin, felt a deer antler, looked through a magnifying glass at seeds and bugs and learned about the history of the place. We asked the same question at every visitor’s center: “Where can we see a bear?” Often the rangers were a bit evasive in their answers, but as we knew the park better, we learned the best places to stalk the moose and where the beavers were building their lodge. We spent hours driving the back roads at dusk waiting for the animals to appear. We learned that sometimes bears come visit during breakfast!
Today, if you were to ask my girls where their favorite place to go on vacation would be, they would both agree – Teton National Park.
As the girls grew up, we ended up moving to different parts of the country and thus our travels changed directions and included different roads and states. So, our quest for National Parks expanded. Some directions, if you plan carefully, you can get a lot of different parks on the same trip. Most National Parks or Monuments have a Jr. Ranger program for children (and adults) to participate in. These programs include a little worksheet or booklet with activities for the kids to complete. Once they have completed these activities, they can turn the booklet back in and receive a Jr. Ranger pin and sometimes a patch as well.
Over the years, as we plan our family vacations, we almost always include at least one National Park! There is so much beauty in different parts of the United States and the National Parks have provide the opportunities for our family to experience and love nature and the out of doors. Our daughters have Jr. Ranger pins for over 40 different National Parks.
A few years ago, a mom friend of mine told me she could never travel with her kids because they didn’t like to be in the car. They went to a local hotel and used the pool there for their vacation. I’ve thought about that a bit as we have added miles to our car, gotten cranky on long road trips, but also seen places my friend’s kids might never see. My oldest daughter loves history and I do believe that interest was sparked as we traveled to different parks to learn about different times, people, and places.
If you’ve never been to a National Park, check out their website www.nps.gov and see if there is a park or monument close to you. Then plan your next trip and learn something new, experience the beauty of nature, and include your children (or grandchildren) in discovering a new place. Create a new family tradition.
You’ve heard about our favorite National Park, what is your favorite one? I’d love to hear about why it is your favorite.
Some of our favorite camping essentials:
Binoculars for looking for wildlife.
National Park Passport Book
Teton National Park Map
National Park Travel Guide Book
Coleman Camp Stove